Healthcare leaders were recently challenged to create Ontario Health Teams (OHTs). In the midst of that game-changing work, came the COVID-19 pandemic. Both these events have compelled our healthcare leaders to move in ways that are uncomfortable, innovative and well outside our norms.

During the creation of OHTs, experienced leaders moved through phases similar to the six stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance and meaning. These stages first became evident when healthcare leaders were trying to bring partner-organizations together for the early conversations related to the creation of an OHT. Behaviours indicative of denial, anger and bargaining brought “trust-issues” to light, to the extent that the Ontario Health Association (OHA) named it and brought relevant information and tools to the work.

The sixth stage of grief involves finding meaning. One OHT partnership group introduced their members to the complex, influencing strategy of Appreciative Inquiry (A.I.) as a methodology to reframe and imagine their work together through a positive and synergistic lens.

The aim of an A.I. is to move towards a newly envisioned and desired goal. The process involves imagining the best possible outcome. It builds on peak performance and wastes no energy on fixing what is broken. Organizations take forward the best of what is and make it the foundation of the very best of what could be. Finding meaning through collective wisdom, and a unified desire to leave broken processes behind, opens an inspired and clearer view of the journey ahead. The OHT partnership group told stories that align with their values and described an outcome that is kind, high in quality, efficient, inclusive and equitable in a culture that feels like loving care for patients, clients, families and all providers.

… And then COVID-19 happened. Across the world, healthcare workers have shown their ability to adapt, innovate and respond. No doubt, they too have experienced the early stages of grief. We are assured by researchers and scientists that there are many unknowns ahead and we will likely cycle through the stages of grief again. There are no stops on a linear timeline.

What began as a quest to change how care is delivered using OHT strategies brought us together in conversation. Our COVID-19 response has further shown, in real-time, what can be achieved when we come together in action.

Healthcare workers are now seen as whole, creative and resourceful contributors in a more meaningful way. We are spoken of as heroes and, perhaps, we have even gone out of our own way a little through this pandemic. Everything is possible when we find meaning in the work. Let us continue to re-imagine healthcare together … this time with the wisdom of lessons learned. No one can tell us that it cannot be done because we are doing it under unimaginable circumstances.

The article refers to the Sarnia Lambton (S-L) OHT Partnership Group. 

About the Author

Barbara Heatley-O’Neil, BScN, MA, AdEd, CPCC, was chief nursing executive and chief of inter-professional practice at Bluewater Health, Sarnia, ON. Now retired, she is an A.I. facilitator and certified co-active coach. She uses A.I. extensively in her practice.